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Q&A with Kate DiCamillo

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this middle grade novel.
Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this middle grade novel.

Because of Winn-Dixie was one of the most beloved chapter books I read my fifth graders. Year after year, they treasured the story of India Opal Buloni whose chance encounter with a dog in a grocery store seemed to change her life. For any child or teacher who has been a fan of Because of Winn-Dixie or any of Kate DiCamillo‘s other works, then you’ll be happy to know that another outstanding novel of hers goes on sale next week. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I know many teachers use DiCamillo’s books as touchstone texts in reading workshop. This award-winning writer‘s books are ripe for use as mentor texts inside of writing workshop too. Therefore, I did a Q&A with Kate DiCamillo in an effort to provide you with a little more information about the writing of Raymie Nightingale since I have a feeling many teachers are going to utilize this book with their students in the months to come.

THE INTERVIEW

KateD-7-EditQ: I understand you’ve returned to your roots, setting Raymie Nightingale in Central Florida, where you grew up. While Raymie’s story was inspired by your own life, it is not your story. Would you talk a bit about how you pulled elements from your childhood to create Raymie Nightingale?

A: It’s a strange, subconscious process.  I didn’t set out to write about my childhood.  I set out to write a funny story about entering a Little Miss pageant and not winning.  And then all these things that I didn’t anticipate starting showing up.  There are little bits and pieces of the young me all over this book–missing my father, wanting to bring him back, never learning how to twirl a baton, the beauty of swans, the terror of the animal pound, the lure of candy corn, the balm of friendship.  But none of those things got in the book intentionally.  They kind of slipped in behind my back.

Q: The characterization in Raymie Nightingale — main and secondary – is so strong. Tell us more about how you develop your characters? To that end, what kinds of things do you do to create your characters that teachers can teach their students?

A: I never think of it as creating characters.  I think of it is as *discovering* characters.  I always feel like my job is to stand back and let the character lead.  I follow them.

Q: Many kids struggle with creating authentic characters. What are some suggestions you have to help kids discover their characters so they can write believable ones who jump off of the page?

A: For me, one of the best ways to discover characters is to have them talk to each other.  You can find out so much about people by listening to them.  Have your students go out into the world and eavesdrop.  Have them write down random lines of dialog that they hear in the grocery store, or a coffee shop or on the bus.  Listen, listen.

Q: Would you tell us more about your planning, writing, and revision processes? (To that end, I’ve heard you write two pages a day, five days a week. What are some of your writing secrets to stay disciplined?)

A: It’s true!  Two pages a day–most days.  I don’t do a lot of planning (see above, I’m just kind of feeling my way down a long dark hallway), but I do a ton of revision.  Each novel is about eight or nine drafts.  I write a complete draft, put it aside and then start again a few weeks later, at the beginning.

As to staying disciplined–I spent so long wanting to be a writer–and not writing–that I found it is easier to just do the work.  I’ve also found that I’m happier when I’m writing.

Q: What do you think makes a good story?

A: Love (of this world and the people and the beings in it (i.e. E.B. White), humor, hope.

Q: What advice do you have for kids who want to be authors when they grow up?

A: Read, read, read, read, read. Write. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  Pay attention.  Love.

Q: Many teachers who read this blog have thought about writing for children (PB, MG or YA novels). What advice do you have for people who are trying to break into the publishing industry?

A: Write your heart.  Don’t try to write to the market.  Write the story that you need to write.  And read as much as you can.  Read, read, read.  Write, write, write.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Oh, next up is a story about Baby Lincoln and how she goes on a necessary journey.  I’m very excited for Baby to get her own story.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Raymie Nightingale.  Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy for one reader of this post.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Raymie Nightingale, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, April 15th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, April 17th. 
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Candlewick Press will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. A random number generator selected Kristi Lonheim’s commenter number. Here’s what she wrote:

I think the idea of writing a little bit, every day, makes the overwhelming task seem more manageable. Thanks for that gem.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

120 thoughts on “Q&A with Kate DiCamillo Leave a comment

  1. Kate is such an amazing author… I teach second grade and have a student who has read every one of her books. I know here and I are both looking forward to getting our hands on this new book! I love the advice of having your students listen to other people’s dialogue…. what a unique suggestion for discovering characters to write about.

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  2. I loved this interview! I plan on showing my students her advice about writing and rewriting! I think it will help them see they don’t write their best the first time.

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  3. I’m thrilled to hear about another book by Kate. Each of her books is a journey of exactly what she sets out to write: love, humor, hope. I am so grateful as a teacher and student of writing to have had a chance to hear about her process! The way she writes, it sounds so doable! I’m very encouraged and motivated by this as a writer!

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  4. My students loved Because of Winn Dixie and now we are enjoying The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. They have truly fallen in love with author, Kate DiCamillo.

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  5. It’s always a great day when you hear that Kate DiCamillo is writing another new book! I love that Kate’s three words that make a great book are love, humor, and hope. Now I know exactly why her books are a favorite of mine!
    Thanks for sharing this interview!

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  6. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite in my world! I had the privilege of meeting her at NCTE this past year. At that reading, I got a preview chapter for Raymie Nightingale. Can’t wait for the whole thing! Thanks for doing this post!

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  7. BOWD and MJET are my third graders favorite read alouds. Kate DiCamillo creates such strong characters who are transformed by their experiences. Her writing evokes powerful emotions and teaches readers powerful themes about love, loss and eternal friendship.

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  8. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite of mine and it was a treat to read this interview and to learn about her writing process. What a wonderful repertoire of work she has! “Raymie Nightingale” sounds like another winner!

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  9. Rewriting – over and over- love the process! I also love that thought of following her characters not creating. A writer needs to listen well! Waiting for the new release!

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  10. I can’t wait to read this book! One of my student book clubs just finished Tiger Rising and I can’t wait to put this one in their hands!

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  11. Your stories give children (and adults who read them to children) a way to deal with loss through love. I’m very excited to read your new book and tell my students. Thank you for writing with such passion.

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  12. I am so eager to meet Raymie and introduce her to my students! Thank you Kate for your advice and sharing your talents with us. You inspire me!

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  13. I am so excited that Kate has a new book. I am definitely going to share Kate’s writing tips with my students.

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  14. My students and I are huge fans of Kates. We have fallen in love with her characters every time and have revisited them often throughout the year!

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  15. Have to agree with Angela. As I read this interview, I was smiling ear to ear. I’ve read all of Kate’s books, often saving them for a cross country airplane ride. And they have a broad audience with young people. In fact, I’ve read Because of Winn-Dixie”Because of Winn-Dixie” to urban high schoolers who were overage and under-credited, and disengaged from reading. They sat totally engaged with the story line and dialogue. When I stopped, they would say become upset and say, “Read more, Miss!” I’m on a flight now and only sorry I don’t have “Raymie Nightingale” with me to while away the time.

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  16. I absolutely love her books. They are a staple in my guided reading/literature discussion groups. All the books allow my students to discover theme and become truly invested in a book!

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  17. I’m SO excited about this new book! I teach 3rd grade in Texas and read “Because of Winn Dixie” every year! It is one of those books that turns nonreaders in to readers. It is a powerful story that teaches many important lessons. Typically my students read all of Kate Dicamillo’s books. We can’t wait to read “Raymie Nightingale”

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  18. I love Kate’s books. Because of Winn Dixie was always a favorite book/author study. I’m excited to share this interview with my teachers, so they can share this with their kids.

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  19. I am not sure if this will be a duplicate. I just love everything DiCamillo has written. I am very excited to read this new book and to share it with my students. As a reading interventions teacher, I am always looking for books that my struggling readers will read and keep wanting to turn the page. DiCamillo always delivers! Thank you for explaining your writing process, which I will share with my students. So often, I think they believe that writing is just hard work for them and no one else.

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  20. I just love everything I have read by DiCamillo. I am very eager to read this new book, and share it with my students! As a reading intervention specialist, I am always looking for books that make my struggling readers want to turn the page. Kate DiCamillo always delivers!

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  21. Can’t wait to share Kate’s advice about being authors – read…write, rewrite…pay attention, love – with my students.

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  22. In my bird grade class we do a whole novel study semester based on your books Kate! My students absolutely love them each year! Even when it is not their turn to come read in reading group they always try to listen and follow the story lines. I’m so excited to read your new book and hopefully some of my advanced readers will be able to read it too! Thank you for being such an inspirational author!

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  23. Kate DiCamillo is an inspirational writer! When my students got to meet her two years ago, they were in awe of her life’s story and how it paralleled their own in so many different ways.

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  24. I am so excited to read this newest addition to my well loved collection. I have put her books into the hands of so many teachers and students. I am sure this one will be no different.

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  25. What wonderful advice for characterization! I can’t wait to share with students. Her advice to “read, read, read, write, write, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite” sounds so easy, but is so powerful and TRUE!! Love hearing her insight into the little pieces of herself she has slipped into this story.

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  26. Such a timely post as we are revising, revising, revising our essays. I’m excited to share with my class who have read Winn Dixie and love Kate’s books. Thank you!

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  27. I am so excited for a new book. I don’t know who likes her books more, me or my students! I don’t know if I have a favorite… but Tale of Despereaux of a good one.

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  28. My students love Kate’s books! We are currently reading a Tale of Despereaux next is the Magician’s Elephant! Both of these stories are magnificent in the lessons they teach for humanity.

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  29. I love Kate’s books. I cannot wait to meet her newest character. I love her advice for aspiring authors. Read, read, read and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite are great pieces of advice.

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  30. I’m not entering the giveaway, but I just wanted to add that every time I read more about Kate’s writing process, I understand it more. At first it all seemed very mysterious and unplanned… but the more I write, the more I get it.

    Gosh, I love her and her books.

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  31. We use Kate DiCamillo’s books throughout our Reading Units of Study! I can’t wait to read this new release and add it to our collection!

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  32. Hooray! Another book by Kate! Just finished reading Winn-Dixie with 4th graders, and we enjoyed it so much. We are now writing our own “Ten Things About” lists. We also read parts of Flora and Ulysses this year, too. Can’t wait to add Raymie.

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  33. Kate’s books are perfect for every aspect. We use them for read alouds, book clubs, literature study, and independent reading. The books are full of teaching experiences from character, plot, and theme to figurative language. Thanks for the gifts Kate!

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  34. Looking forward to reading Kate’s next book!! Wish she was coming to New England to talk about her book and the process of writing : (

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  35. Love Kate’s books! Always read them aloud to my class. I can’t wait to share her tips from this interview with them!

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  36. When I taught 4th grade, Kate’s books were my go-to books to inspire an individual reader, an engaging read aloud, or create animated and thoughtful discussions in a book group.

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  37. Kate DiCamillo’s characters and stories make fantastic mentor texts. So much in each of her books to use for mini-lessons and kids are always riveted while you read her books.

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  38. We use reading and writing workshop in my district (I’m a literacy coach!) and Kate DiCamilo’s books are often a “go to” for mentor texts. Excited to read her new book!

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  39. I love all of Kate’s books! I had the pleasure of listening to her speak when she came to Vermont years ago. She is wonderful!

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  40. I love her idea of eavesdropping on conversations. That is s great entry point into a story. I absolutely love her books. My favorite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. My daughters and I have read it many times and reference Edward all the time in conversations!!!! I can’t wait to read her new book!!!

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  41. I am so looking forward to reading this book! I love Kate’s words about “discovering” a character and developing characters through dialog. And like all writers she has two pieces of advice- read and write! Also the bit about write what is in your heart, not for the market…

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  42. Our school loves all of Kate’s books! We just finished up a school-wide read of Because of Winn Dixie. I’m excited to read her newest selection.

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  43. I have used so many of her books as mentor texts for writing and during reading workshop. Knowing more about her process as a writer and how she discovers characters is intriguing! Can’t wait to read this new favorite!

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  44. Kate DiCamillo’s books stay with the reader long after the reading. Thank you for providing a window into her process. Now we have another way to show students that writers are real people, and that all writers revise!

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  45. I’m anxious to read this new book. Kate’s books are so popular with my students! She is a master at writing quality children’s literature.

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  46. There is so much to learn from amazing authors like Kate…but what stands out most is the value we must continue to place on the reading-writing connection. Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Thanks for sharing this interview.

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  47. I’m completely inspired! I recently joined a writing group with the goal being simply to START. With so many stories swirling around in my head, it is often overwhelming when I think about where to start. I’ve wrestled with the thought that it is too late to start anything, but this interview was truly motivational for me. I’m writing, I’ve begun, and writing 2 pages a day is now my goal. Thank you!

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  48. It is wonderful when author’s let us into their process! Writing is a very personal process. The reality of “rewrite, rewrite, rewrite” is important for students and teachers to know and implement as part of the “process” of reaching “publication”. My favorite piece of advice in this interview is “write your heart. Don’t write for the market.” Thank you and I look forward to reading and adding your new book(s) to our school collections!

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  49. I appreciate the advice from Kate. Putting the draft away and starting completely over. Wow! I wonder if I could get my “nonrevisor” students on board with that! I love the idea of discovering characters through dialogue.

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  50. What a great advice from Kate. “Read, read, read. Write. Rewrite” I will share this advise others my students. The connection between writing and reading is soooo strong.

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  51. Kate,
    We are so excited to read your new book! We have finished “The Tale of Despereaux” and “Because of Winn Dixie” this year. My students even wanted to write to you about their thoughts of the first book!

    Thank you for this new story!

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  52. My class has has the opportunity to experience many of Katie’s books and the love and humor has captivated even my most reluctant readers. I can’t wait to share this with my students. Thanks your advice and for believing in what you do!

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  53. I love all of Kate’s books, but The Tale of Despereaux is my favorite. For me, love shines through the loudest in this brave little mouse. Thank you, Kate, for your beautiful books and your wise advice!

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  54. I am so excited for students at my school to read this post about the writing process and discovering characters. How we love your books!

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